If you’re like me, it takes a solid month to put the year away and get the next one revved up, during which, obviously, you still want to be teaching a decent class and maintaining the culture you’ve so carefully cultivated throughout the year. Many teachers assign dreaded research and performance projects for just this reason. They’re great for everyone, because they allow the perfect balance of horizon expansion and procrastination, all of which lead to creative discovery for theatre students. So feel free to file this away for the future even if you’re already in the thick of your finals.
Like the way I cook, this project involves some practice, some text, some systemic management, some direct instruction, some small groups, and a lot of creative and responsive improvisation. I call it Fun With Playwrights. Because it can be.
1. Get some scripts that you have lying around that the kids haven’t read yet. Short One Act plays are ideal for beginners, advanced students need to level up and hit your full length collection.
2. If you have a lot of time, which you don’t now, have the students read a few and and summarize or otherwise demonstrate basic competency in their knowledge of them.
Here are some questions I ask of them when I have a lot of time. I put these on a worksheet.
- PLEASE SUMMARIZE PLAY #1 IN 25 WORDS OR LESS. YOUR SUMMARY MUST INCLUDE THE TITLE OF THE PLAY AND THE WORDS “IMPROBABLE”, “TUMESCENT” AND “DELICATE”.
- CREATE A CELEBRITY/FANTASY CAST LIST FOR PLAY NUMBER 2, LISTING ALL CHARACTERS HERE. PLEASE STATE A REASON WHY YOU WOULD CAST EACH CELEBRITY.
- PLAY #3 WRITE A DESCRIPTION OF A MISSING SCENE FROM THIS PLAY TO EITHER GO BEFORE OR AFTER IT WHICH CONTAINS A LETTER FROM SOMEONE IN THE PLAY’S RICH UNCLE.
PLAYS I HAVE USED FOR THIS:
- The Lottery, Brainerd Duffield (Shirley Jackson)
- The Dumbwaiter, Harold Pinter
- Dojoji, Yukio Mishima
- Novio Boy, Gary Soto
- The Love Doctor, Moliere
- The Hitchhiker, Lucille Fletcher
- The Post Office, Rabindranath Tagore
- Sorry, Wrong Number, Stephen King
- Back There, Rod Serling
4. Each group picks a play. You pick groups, or not, depending on what is happening in your class.
5. Have them research the play, create a FUN FACTS SHEET, citing sources.
6. Have them create an IDEA BOARD with images from the Google, in Google slides. 10-20 images. Talk about how designers use these for research and inspiration.
8. Have them choose either a SCENE PERFORMANCE or a DESIGN option. (you can totally restrict these to either or, but I find for general classes it’s fun for students to delve into interest areas).
Here are my descriptions of those options:
SCENE PERFORMANCE OPTION
- Memorize and block a 4 minute cut.
- Research acting style of scene and solve stage problems.
- Create sound and lighting and props and costumes for scene.
- On day of performance, come to class with all props (you create) costumes and a plan for furniture to create scene, prepared to present:
- An introduction which explains the play, playwright, and historical context using the 10 Fun Facts from your research.
- A well-rehearsed 4 minute scene which shows off a production quality slice of the particular play you decided on. This is the last drama some of you will do for us, so make it count!
DESIGN PROJECT MENU OPTIONS
On day of final, present:
- Your Fun Facts about the playwright
- Your Idea Board
- Proof of Concept of one of the following areas
COSTUME DESIGN Provide 3 full color sketches for characters from your play, with various genders, ages, ethnicities and body types with accurate proportions, heads, faces, hands and feet. Provide fabric swatches for each sketch indicating what the clothing would look like.LIVE MODEL BONUS: costume a live model and use them in your presentation.Presentation must focus on historical research, character, and aesthetic choices, as well as any mobility issues for actors.
SET DESIGN Provide a full color ¼ inch scale rendering of the proposed set using your school’s theatre as a model. You may use a program like Sketchup or do it by hand. Include both a ground plan and an elevation. OR Provide a 3-D white model of the set to scale. Presentation should focus on historical/aesthetic research, and functionality of the set.
PROP DESIGN Provide a spreadsheet of all props in the play.Provide 3 full color sketches or 1 accurate prop models of props to be used. (model means you build it)Presentation should focus on historic/aesthetic research, process of prop construction and functionality of props.
SOUND DESIGN. Provide a spreadsheet of sound effects and music cues for a play.Gather and be prepared to play a minimum of 6 sound samples for the play. ONE MUST BE AN ORIGINALLY CREATED SOUND EFFECT OR ORIGINAL COMPOSITION.Presentation should focus on historical/aesthetic research and feature cues.
PUBLICITY Provide a sample publicity timeline for a production of this play at your school including a strategy for publicity for your community and a social media campaign. Present this.Provide a full color poster (need to use original art for this with) date, time, ticket prices, and necessary information for a production of this play.Make a sample program, button, or shirt to help publicize the show.
LIGHTS Provide a light cue list for the show including light effects, overall lighting, and lights that may need to be practical.Create three sketches of a set showing different lighting effects potentially used in a production ORCreate a white model and photograph the effect of the three effects using gels and flashlights. Present the photos in digital or printed form. Presentation should focus on historical/aesthetic research and show evidence of sketches or photographs.
9. You’re going to have to manage the heck out of this. For best success therefore:
- Continue with daily warmups and games
- Create deadlines
- Actively showcase ongoing student work (critique idea boards early)
- Have Reality Check time where students assess what they have accomplished and what needs to happen
- Teach mini lessons on each design area (now is the time to pull out old show posters, designs, and other stuff that you are in the process of warehousing and have it around for posterity
- Setup rehearsal schedules with individual groups and check progress frequently
- Let your particular skills shine. Love sound design? Teach it! Have a friend working in the biz who can guest lecture on a topic? Bring them in.
- As much as possible allow kids professional time with you in breakout meetings and guided research. Show them examples of the kinds of charts and lists people make, and encourage them to watch excerpts of their shows and research productions. This is a great way to build knowledgable theatre makers. If you have the space, let them get messy building their mockups.
10. HAVE FUN! See the growth in the students you have worked with all year. The lovely thing about this product is how much small group and one on one time it allows you with some of your students. If you’ve lit some creativity aflame throughout the course of the year, you’ll really see it take off with this kind of project.